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Robert DeNiro gets it right on writers: We have ‘terrifying’ minds — and wouldn’t have it any other way

Robert De Niro Oscars

While presenting at the 86th annual Academy Awards, actor Robert DeNiro had a spot-on observation about writers. He was joking — but not — when he said:

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing—isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy.”

While I suppose this analysis could be applied to almost anyone, it has a ring of truth to it that, as a writer, I can not deny. While I’m not “caffeine-addled,” I admit to having struggled with many of the traits on his list.

I believe that one of the reasons good writers struggle with feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy is because most of the time you must be your toughest critic in order to achieve excellence.

A good writer is constantly asking “How can this be better? How can I bring this character to life? How can I make this scene touch someone at the deepest of levels? Am I doing my characters justice?”

What exacerbates the problem for many good writers is that they often use financial success as a barometer of their self-worth. Some of them toil away on blogs or on books that might never see the light of day or make much money. It also takes hours — in isolation — to finish, which means the writer often finds himself alone when his mind wanders to unhelpful places.

If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on DeNiro’s awards presentation. Personally, I’m okay with having a “terrifying” mind. I wouldn’t have it any other way.